Medicare Marketing in Our Digital World

Chapter 1:

Why are Medicare Marketers struggling to develop a Digital Marketing Strategy?

Have you recently been to a music concert where more than half of the audience is watching it through the camera screen of their smart phone?  It’s amazing how many people are holding their phones high above their heads in order to capture a personal video memory of the concert rather than just enjoying the moment.

Have you noticed that increasingly more and more people in public places have their heads down laser focused on their smart phones?

Just recently, Augsburg, a German city was the first municipality to install traffic signalsin the sidewalk so that smart phone-distracted pedestrians would see them after a 15 year old girl there was killed by a tram when according to police reports she was distracted by her smart phone while she crossed the tracks.

People are tethered to charging stations at airports so they will have digital access throughout their trip, even at 30,000 feet with on-board pay-to-play Wi-Fi.

Some have identified a psychological state known as “Nomophobia” which according toWikipedia is the fear of being out of mobile phone contact, as Nomophobia is an abbreviation for “no-mobile-phone-phobia.”   In Psychology Today, an article that discusses “Smartphone Addiction” points to symptoms such as “Feeling anxious whenever you do not have your smartphone in your physical possession, constantly checking the phone for new texts with the compulsion to respond instantaneously, phantom cellphone vibration symptoms, not listening to people in front of your while checking your Facebook page” and more.

“For the first time ever, time spent inside mobile applications by the average US consumer has exceeded that of TV” noted in Flurry in a report published last month that goes on to say “the average US consumer is spending 198 minutes per day inside apps compared to 168 minutes on TV.”

Digital has become woven into everyday life, and those marketers who are ignoring it or pretending that it isn’t, should check how long their heads have been buried in the sand, because they are in danger of suffocating their careers.

And Digital is not only phones.  Digital is tablets, PC’s, planes, trains and automobiles. The IoT (Internet of Things) is all things connected, and according to Cisco’s Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG) some 50 billion things will be connected by 2020.

Digital has expanded into home appliances, connected homes, connected cars, and more importantly, connected health.

We are indeed living in a Digital World. 

People are increasing their time spent with newer and emerging touch-points which are predominantly digital.

According to a recent 2015 Forrester report: “US online adults now report that they spend more time online than watching off line TV (20 and 11 hours, respectively).”  Stop for a moment and think of how that statement should impact your Medicare marketing strategy, however most Medicare marketing organizations haven’t realized that the shift from television to digital has already occurred.

Why then, are Medicare Marketers struggling to develop a Digital Marketing Strategy?

“Health Insurers Fall Flat with Consumer Marketing” was the topic of another Forrester report, which uncovered the fact that Health Insurance marketers are laggards in consumer marketing.  “John Bowen of Acxiom said that insurers’ biggest barrier is they don’t have the efficient best practices or similar skills in place as B2C marketing veterans have.”  The insight provided by this report included that “plan providers need to mimic other industries in similar positions (such as auto) and focus on driving an ongoing relationship through relationship marketing strategies that generate loyalty.”

And maybe it’s because up until now, some Medicare marketing organizations have viewed Digital as an additional channel, when it really isn’t.  Digital is a way of life.  Digital considerations must be made for every marketing strategy and tactic, even if the origination tactic is offline, such as television.

The phrase “Omnichannel” has reverberated throughout the hallways of every marketing organization for the past few years, and now, Omnichannel has become the hot buzz phrase for every channel of marketing, which most translate into digital channels, since no one ever mentioned “Omnichannel” until we were well into the digital age.

Up until now, those brave Medicare marketers who dared to peel some budget away from the traditional work horse channel of direct mail to experiment with digital have done so in very limited ways.

For most Medicare marketers, digital only means search and display.  For an adventurous few, digital may include retargeting or remarketing.

And some Medicare marketers are unaware of digital tactics such as programmatic, content marketing, native content marketing, native advertising, direct site alignment, social advertising and marketing automation.

Even for basic SEM (Search Engine Marketing) there are many new cutting edge tactics that marketers from other industries are capitalizing on, such as conquesting, targeted ad copy, targeted non-brand keywords, targeted devices, contextual CPC (Cost Per Click) and targeted day-parting, most of which Medicare marketers aren’t considering.

Considering that the leading-edge Boomers are turning 65 at the rate of 10,000 per day in the United States which will continue until the year 2030, and that according to eMarketer, by 2018 there will be 10 million more 65+ year olds using the internet than in 2014, Medicare marketers must take off the blinders to see that the digital marketing handwriting is on the wall.

There is a great opportunity for Medicare marketers to become great digital marketers for their audience which is becoming increasingly digital as time quickly passes.   And it’s only a matter of time before the same digital consumer expectations that have impacted nearly every other industry will heavily impact the way that Medicare marketing is practiced.

At KERN HEALTH, we have been working on an expanded whitepaper of this subject: “Medicare Marketing In Our Digital World” which will be available this summer.  Please watch for it, and please stay tuned here on LinkedIn for more in this series.

Read the next installment now:

Medicare Marketing in Our Digital World: Chapter 2: A Digital Beginning 


10 Medicare Marketing Mega-trends for 2016


In 2016, there are 10 major Medicare Marketing Megatrends that will significantly impact marketers who are focused on developing programs for Medicare prospects and members:

  1. The Audience Has Changed and So Must Marketers

The most significant megatrend is that the Medicare audience is changing. There is a new senior in town. They’re not only identifiable by their age. Other factors are critical to segmenting the new Faces of Medicare in 2016, as the population moves from the Greatest Generation to leading-edge and trailing-edge baby boomers, who behave much differently than the seniors that most Medicare marketers are prepared for.

We see a digital-savvy consumer that spends more time online and on social networks than previous seniors. But we also see Medicare marketing organizations turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to this enlightened new group of seniors by planning the same old print, DM and TV marketing, and pretending that digital adoption by the new faces of Medicare isn’t a real thing.

Marketers need to create new media and budget strategies. Most are not likely to be wildly successful out of the gate considering that constant reevaluation and optimization on the fly during a compressed AEP might prove to be difficult without a seasoned and experienced marketing agency partner.

  1. New Member Acquisition: Balancing Age-In and AEP Acquisition Strategies

Knowing that new member acquisition is the important lifeblood of any insurer’s success, Medicare marketers are struggling to decide which is the greater pot of gold: age-in, with 10,000 people in the U.S. turning 65 every day, or AEP, during which multiple research documents show only 10% of the Medicare Advantage enrollees opt to switch at all. Should Medicare marketing organizations put their resources and emphasis on age-ins or on AEP?

And continuing with the acquisition theme, Medicare marketers are beginning to wonder what is actually within their control. Are they vying for a piece of the 22% of Medicare Advantage enrollees in AEP? Do they really have any hope of denting the acquisition numbers of the Magnificent Medicare Seven?

3 — Medicare Strategies for Those Who Work Past Age 65

What about the increasing number of seniors delaying retirement, keeping their workplace insurance and entering the Medicare market late? Organizations must have strategies in place to attract and acquire members of this increasingly growing segment. Do you have the ability to identify and engage these important prospective members? Best-in-class organizations either have or plan to have strategies in place to do so for 2016 and beyond.

4 — Marketing Owns Customer Experience

Customer experience is now of paramount importance to Medicare marketing organizations. From the moment a prospective member becomes aware of your organization or has an interaction with your organization, each and every touch point is vital; something as simple as a planned and cohesive customer-experience process can be the difference between a lifelong member and a fleeting prospect.

5 — Retention and Loyalty Transition of Legacy Members

Since insurer members are most likely to remain with the same insurance company when entering Medicare, are those insurers ready to fight to keep those legacy members through extraordinary retention and loyalty efforts?

6 — Star Rating System

Medicare marketers are struggling with the importance of the star rating system, and are grappling with the actual importance of a 5-star rating as it pertains to acquisition efforts. An organization’s star rating is a direct reflection of its level of professionalism in providing an excellent customer experience across all touch points.

7 — New Media Strategies Are Needed

In the Age of the Consumer, Medicare marketing organizations must adopt and evolve to remain relevant and effective. New marketing positioning and messaging must be compelling to the enlightened and empowered consumer. Marketers must be creatively digital and mobile in their thinking, and adapt to a rapidly changing audience’s new media consumption habits.

  1. Medicare is Changing

According to an ABC news article from January 4, 2016, “Whether it’s coverage for end-of-life counseling or an experimental payment scheme for common surgeries, Medicare in 2016 is undergoing some of the biggest changes in its 50 years. Grandma’s Medicare usually just paid the bills as they came in. Today, the nation’s flagship health-care program is seeking better ways to balance cost, quality and access.”

9 — New Perceptions of Life Expectancy

There are significant new megatrends in elder healthcare. From connected healthcare and virtual doctor visits we have entered what some are calling the longevity economy, where 60 years old is the new 40.

Life expectancy has risen to a little over 78 years, which some will attribute to many new life-extension procedures. Just recently, Medicare announced there may be a program developed to support physicians with end-of-life counseling.

10 — Simplifying the Complex is Essential

Some megatrends are not new, such as attempting to solve the complexities of Medicare through simple and concise communications. Consumers have always been overwhelmed with the complexities of making an informed decision regarding their Medicare coverage. Let’s face it, it’s never been an easy or simple explanation regarding plan choices, and marketers must strive to make the complex simple.

And without a doubt, the greatest megatrend that Medicare marketers will need to deal with is The New Faces of Medicare-Eligible Members, which is a topic I’ll cover in my next article.

Medicare Marketing: What’s Your Tolerance for Testing During AEP?


Each Autumn, starting on October 15th and ending on December 7th, a sprint to the finish line of AEP (Medicare Annual Election Period) is run by every Medicare insurance marketing team.   During this very compressed period of time of 54 days, those who are enrolled in Medicare can choose to switch their coverage during the Annual Election Period.

Even though various reports have identified the percentage of Medicare enrollees who are likely to switch at 10% or less, the year-long planning which leads to a frenzy of marketing activity packed into 7 weeks and 5 days is traversed by every single Medicare insurer since the “land-grab” of AEP is seen as the greatest single opportunity to add net new members.

As modern marketers, we know that testing is essential to optimization, yet, with the constraint of having Medicare marketing tactics perform at the highest possible level during this finite time period, causes many smart marketers to abandon testing due to the high pressure that’s put on marketing to make the AEP numbers.

And those who attempt to stay true to the best practice of testing, often do so, with testing budgets that aren’t nearly adequate for proper statistical validity in test results which prevents optimization of programs.

What is your organization’s tolerance for testing during AEP?   What are you testing?  We all need to be testing channels, the media selection placed within the channels, the messaging used to move people to the call to action, the format of the communications, and challengers to our direct mail pieces, the reality is, that we aren’t testing what we should be testing.

Why?  Excuses abound.

“We only have “$X budget” to bring in “Y” net new members and we can’t take a chance on using a portion of that budget for testing which may, or may not work.”

“We’ve tested similar things before and they’ve never worked.”

“I can’t hire another agency to create a direct mail challenger and then send it to such a small test quantity- it isn’t efficient enough.”

“Every year we hear about the digitally savvy new faces of Medicare coming into market, and each time we’ve tested digital, it doesn’t provide the same ROI as direct mail or TV.”

“We go to conferences, attend seminars, learn about new digital tactics, and we can never find the budget to properly test them.”

“We’re under pressure to perform, and our jobs could be in jeopardy if we don’t perform.”

The consistent lack of testing during AEP is preventing many Medicare marketers from optimizing their efforts and from achieving future success.

Can organizations break away from this vicious cycle so that they can resume what all marketers really must be doing, which is testing?

How can we possibly know if the “control” direct mail package we are sending year after year really is worthy of being a control if we can’t hire another agency to test against it?   How will we ever know if moving budget from traditional to digital channels is going to result in greater MROI?  Is the event strategy and tactics that we are putting into market really the best use of our budget?   If we flight DRTV in concert with direct mail and digital, what effect will it have on our overall results?  What if we changed it up?  How can we change it up?

What can marketers do to insure that testing is part of their plans for every year’s AEP?

As I am privileged and fortunate to be in a position to speak with many marketers whose sole focus is Medicare marketing, I have found that having and enabling a robust testing program in, and for that matter, outside of AEP, is directly attributable to the initial strategic planning stages of the programs.

Marketing leaders are responsible to include testing as part of their overarching plan from the outset.  The leadership of the organization must be made aware that a comprehensive marketing strategy, must include testing and optimization from the get-go.

If you find yourself in the heat of the battle of AEP without budget and planning for testing, it is because the strategy hasn’t been planned well.  Optimization through testing and learning are basic fundamentals of marketing, and often, fundamentals are foolishly overlooked.

There is an old saying that people can be divided into 3 categories: Those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wondered what happened.

If your organization plans for and conducts testing during AEP, good for you, you are making things happen!

If your organization doesn’t plan for testing during AEP, don’t sit there and just watch things happen.  Be that change agent who stands up to challenge leadership to include testing as a fundamental part of every AEP and Age-In marketing plan.

Without testing, there is no progress, and with no progress, there is no optimization and without optimization, results are eventually going to diminish and falter to the point where everyone will wonder what happened.

Test. It’s not an option. It’s a marketing fundamental. Do it.

Medicare Marketing in the Age of the Consumer


While the empowered and emboldened consumer has caused Medicare marketers to deal with a new dynamic in the past few years. In 2016, we are living our new marketing reality: “The Age of The Consumer.”

Even just a few short years ago, consumers were the receiver of the facts and today, there are a billion journalists, as everyone with a mobile device is now a potential journalist.

We came from a world of Television-centric media to our world where Mobile has become the channel of choice, and to be clear, we’re talking about Seniors and those who are about to enter the Medicare eligible market who have also adopted mobile as their channel of choice.

We used to be a captive audience with a limited vision of attention, whereas now, we are anything but captive.  We have the ability to switch on and off as we see fit, and as it fits our lifestyle.

We have moved from a world of fixed parameters to personalized time and space shifting where we alone, determine what we will view and when we will view it.

Having physically limited access to today’s world of unlimited digital access in an instant has broadened our choices to a world where we are able to function with an “unbounded rationality” of decision making with more choices seemingly appearing by the second.

Rather than being forced to opt-out by simply turning off the source of media such as a radio or television set, today, we must opt-in by choosing to visit a website, by signing up to receive communications from a brand and for tuning in rather than tuning out.

Even the way we used to buy gasoline has changed dramatically, where as recently as 10 years ago Full Service stations seem to disappear.  The “Do it for me” society has given way to the Do It Yourself mentality of today.  I’ll research it myself, I’ll find my own insights myself, and I’ll have to pump my own gas, since no one will do it for me.


Blind brand loyalty has given way to peer validation.  Where we used to rely on brands, today we need to find out what others are saying, writing, doing and tweeting before we are comfortable in making a decision.

Welcome to our new reality- The Age of The Customer, and while this new reality is impacting the way that we will market Medicare to Age-ins and AEP prospective members, there are greater forces at work that will even cause a greater impact for Medicare Marketers.

Saying that 2016 will be an action-packed year for Medicare Marketers is a gross understatement and I’ll cover the 4 forces that will impact Medicare Marketing in 2016 in my next blog article.


Mobile Apps Tap Top Spot While TV Naps


While some have predicted that this day would come, many never believed that it would.  According to Flurry Insights Blog, the prediction that mobile apps would overtake television in our daily viewing time in the United States now rings true.

“For the first time ever, time spent inside mobile applications by the average US consumer has exceeded that of TV” reports Flurry in a report published last month.

The report goes on to say that “the average US consumer is spending 198 minutes per day inside apps compared to 168 minutes on TV.”

Remember, that time spent inside of mobile applications has overtaken time spent watching television.  When you consider how much time Americans are spending on mobile devices in total; an earlier Flurry article disclosed that “in Q2 of 2015, American consumers spent, on average, 3 hours and 40 minutes per day on their mobile devices.  In just six short months since Q4 2014, the average time American consumers spend on their phones each day increased by 43 minutes.”

Americans now spend 220 minutes with their eyeballs fixed on their mobile devices compared to 168 minutes where their eyeballs are fixed on television.  When you consider that the average American is spending a total of nearly 6.5 hours per day on both mobile devices and watching television, you begin to understand that as marketers, our addressable audience is offering us an incredible window of opportunity in which to engage them.

This opportunity that is presented is also in fact, a double edged sword.

How many marketing messages is the average person exposed to in one day?  The answer to that question is also riddled with controversy as the debate regarding the answer is still taking place today.  A 2007 N.Y. Times article “Anywhere the Eye Can See, It’s Likely to See an Ad” cites a study by Yankelovich, a market research firm that “estimates that a person living in a city 30 years ago saw up to 2,000 ad messages a day, compared with up to 5,000 today. About half the 4,110 people surveyed last spring by Yankelovich said they thought marketing and advertising today was out of control.”

We also have to consider that this article was written before the advent and proliferation of programmatic media buying and retargeting, which may not increase the number of messages seen, but certainly increases the frequency of specific messages seen based on algorithmic strategies.

How then, can we as marketers craft messages that are compelling and relevant to our audience, that will somehow stand out and apart from the sea of messages that each of us are exposed to?   And, where and how within those 6.5 hours of mobile usage and television viewing are we likely to break through the clutter and win the attention, and consideration of our message deluged audience?

Perhaps it’s not Apps or TV, maybe it’s TV through Apps

Apple CEO Tim Cook said this during his Keynote: “We believe the future of television is apps.  When you experience TV in this way through an app, you realize how much better it can be. You can search for what you want, you can interact with it where and when you want.”

Netflix is an early adopter of the Television through Apps model, and with the new Apple TV which will have its own App Store, and the rest of the set top box competitors vying for market share, there is most likely a new “New Media” based on interactive engagement with both mobile and Smart TV apps on the not-to-distant horizon.

“By 2016 there will be 2 Billion Smart Phones worldwide” according to eMarketer.

How many Apps will there be?  One can only guess.  As modern marketers, we’ll be considering and contemplating how and when and where to reach those people with our messages that will be relevantly compelling and will break through the clutter to stand out from the crowd.

And, in case you hadn’t noticed, at the exact time of posting this there are 69 days, 7 hours, 48 minutes, 29 seconds until 2016 arrives.  Which isn’t a lot of time, so let’s start now!

The Empowered B-to-B Buyers Manifesto

Part 6 of the “Modern B2B Marketing in the Era of the Empowered Buyer Content Stream”

Much has been reported and written over the past two years regarding the modern B2B buyer’s journey, with almost all of the research indicating that, in some way, shape or form, salespeople are being displaced by the ubiquity of available information on digital channels. The Corporate Executive Board (CEB) and Google have been quoted numerous times about B2B buyers traveling 57% of their journey without ever contacting sales. SiriusDecisions stated just last year that “67% of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally,” and many other sources, such as Forrester and Gartner, have reported similar statistics, all pointing to the fact that buyers are completing a majority of the journey without contacting a vendor’s salespeople.

A 2014 Demand Gen Report on B2B Buyer Behavior states: “As many as 34% of respondents said the number of team members involved in the B2B purchase process increased over the past year” and TechTarget chimes in too: “The single buyer is no longer—team buying is prevalent across all geographies as 55–75% of respondents indicate that the most common buying team consists of 2–4 people, but the size of the buying team increases at larger companies.” CEB puts the average size of the enterprise buying group at 5.4 people.

The average B2B buyer age is going down

A recent article in Advertising Age states that millennial influence within B2B buying decision groups is growing rapidly, according to a new study by Google and the research house Millward Brown Digital, where 46% of potential buyers researching B2B products today are millennials, up from 27% in 2012.

We’d like to introduce you to someone quite important.   Someone that you’ll need to become quite familiar with, we’d like to introduce you to the business-to-business empowered buyer of today.

The Business-to-Business Empowered Buyers Manifesto

We have taken power.

We will no longer sit back and be sold to.

We have access to more information than ever with the mere touch
of a finger, and we intend to use it.

We have a ravenous appetite for content, not marketing material.

We don’t stand alone. We are constantly influenced by our network
and we make our decisions in groups. Our strength is in numbers.

Because of us, marketing will never be the same. And that’s a good thing.

We work, think and buy on our own terms.

We will create the future to our liking.

We will be unshakably loyal to what works for us.

And ruthlessly fickle to what doesn’t.

We are the empowered buyer. Welcome to our world.

(Download The Empowered B-to-B Buyer’s Manifesto Here)

The modern business-to-business empowered buyer is more complex, sophisticated and independent than the buyers of yesterday.   They  don’t know who you are and  while they may recognize your firm, they don’t know you.

How much do you really know about your buyers? Do you really know what they want or need and do you know how they feel or what they’re thinking?   Do you know what generational segment that your buyers hail from, and if you do,  you’d better be ready to speak Boomer, X-er, Y-er and Millennial, as each generational segment really only understands their own language.

Your buyer is part of a buying group of between three to seven people on average, so even if you convince your buyer, you’ll also have to convince their group, or help your buyer to convince their group, that your solution makes sense.

Buyers don’t trust your content and only 9% of them trust content provided by vendors however, your buyers do trust content generated by my peers as 86% of IT buyers use social media networks and peer-generated content in the purchase decision process.

Do your buyers know what your brand means?  Maybe they once knew, or maybe they never knew, are you prepared to tell them what your brand stands for?

Why would your buyer stop what they’re doing to listen to you? The attention span of humans is shorter than ever. You don’t have much time to convince your buyer. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, at the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the average attention span of a human being has dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to eight seconds in 2013. This is one second less than the attention span of a goldfish.

Your buyer is using their own digital resources on their own times and terms to seek out solutions.  When marketing to the empowered business customer of 2015,  your organization needs to show up in their  research since the modern buyer  will travel 57% of their buyer’s journey and download 17 pieces of content before they engage with a salesperson.

It’s a brave new world with brave new buyers, and marketers who aren’t adapting to succeed in this new world, are flirting with obsolescence.

Throughout the Summer of ’15, various types of content will be produced to tell you this story.

In the next installment of Modern B2B Marketing in the Era of the Empowered Buyer, I will take a deeper dive areas where marketers are missing the mark on demand generation, beginning with the “Inability to realize the importance of the brand.”

Stay tuned right here for the continuation of the content stream presentation.

Demand Generation is Failing

Part 5 of the “Modern B2B Marketing in the Era of the Empowered Buyer Content Stream”

(Infographic below)

Why is demand generation not working for most organizations? Where are enterprise marketers failing with their demand generation efforts?

Let’s take a look at modern demand generation.  Despite the increasing complexity of demand generation, we can still distill best practices down to these seven, basic principles.

Find ways to break through the B2B marketing clutter
How can you break through to the modern empowered B2B buyer, which now includes the generational segment of Millennials? Marcus Starke, CMO of Ciena, writes: “There’s no reason why B2B marketing should be boring. Instead, your content should be as engaging, exciting and creative as anybody’s marketing, whether you’re selling technology or consumer products. People want to get excited and make connections, understand and be understood.”

Content strategy is essential to content marketing
Most modern B2B marketers have embraced content marketing, yet few have a documented content strategy. According to the Content Marketing Institute’s Content Marketing Study of 2015, only 35% of marketers have documented content strategy. It’s really no surprise that the 35% who properly documented their content strategy are “more effective in all aspects of content marketing than those who don’t.” And it’s more than just having a strategy, it’s really about what ingredients you used to create that strategy.

Learn more about your customer through buyer personas to create relevant, compelling content
In the Demand Gen Marketo 2015 study, they found: “Marketers are adopting personas as a significant tool in their demand generation strategy, as just a little more than one quarter (27%) reported that their personas are well documented and aligned to their messaging and 31% of respondents reported that they do not have personas in place, but plan to build them in the coming year.” In addition to personas, marketers are using the insights gleaned from harvesting mountains of marketing data to enable their organizations to learn more about their customers; some are even able to accomplish this in real time. KERN has developed what we call “the evolution of the marketing persona” in our new persona development process: Progressive Persona Profiling. See more about Progressive Persona Profiling here.

People buy things, businesses don’t. Create personalized content strategically placed where people are likely to consume it.
Bryan Kramer, author of Human to Human: #H2H, states: “There is no B2B or B2C—it’s human to human (H2H) marketing.” Kramer goes on to say:  “The fact is that businesses do not have emotion. Products do not have emotion. Humans do. Humans want to feel something. And humans make mistakes.”

The value and power of the brand can convey both logical and emotional perceptions of the brand, to serve as a halo to the sales organization and eCommerce sites. In a 2015 study, McKinsey states: “In fact, decision makers consider the brand a central rather than a marginal element of a supplier’s proposition. Our survey indicates that a company’s brand is on par with sales as an influencing factor.”

Branding conveys emotions about a company’s services and products. Strong brands convey trust and confidence. Branding and brand storytelling is important in the age of H2H marketing. Branding helps human salespeople tell compelling stories to human buyers.

In Demand Gen Report’s 2014 B2B Buyer Behavior Survey, “61% of respondents said they selected vendors who delivered a mix of content that was appropriate for each stage of their buying process.” It is important for marketers to create content relevant to buyers’ needs at each stage of their journey. Learn more about KERN’s 10-Stage Modern Buyer’s Journey and our philosophies and processes regarding creating a relevant and compelling content strategy here.

Things have changed. Today, there is no such thing as “digital marketing”; rather, there is now “marketing in a digital world.” Placing the content where people can see it requires organizations to rethink their B2B media marketing to include the latest in available media purchase strategies, such as contextual targeting, behavioral targeting, programmatic display, Facebook Exchange, content syndication, site retargeting, social graph targeting, native advertising, online video, paid social, search retargeting, e-mail, search engine marketing and look-alike modeling.

Use marketing automation to drive engagement and nurture prospects
Marketing automation was once a “nice-to-have” and is now a “must-have.” An organization’s ability to nurture both prospects and customers through automated e-mail streams is essential for marketing organizations to attempt to stay “top of mind.” And, marketing automation needs companion pieces of technology to fully realize the potential that it needs to be connected to. Marketing technology is a huge field, with hundreds, if not thousands, of vendors now competing for every marketing technology dollar. What’s in your tech stack? Does it deliver on the promise of moving your organization forward by harnessing your big data and creating actionable insights for your team to consider when planning new strategies or optimizing current strategies?

Pass leads that meet lead-scoring criteria or BANT to sales when leads become MQL, SQL or SAL
Here is an area where we see many organizations falling short.-It should be simple, but the inability to define a lead, a marketing-qualified lead, a sales-accepted lead and a sales-qualified lead causes marketing teams to fail. The road to failure starts with the wrong usage of the word “lead.” What is a lead? Is a tradeshow attendee a lead? NO! A clear and concise definition of leads, suspects, prospects and opportunities must be created with a culture of universal understanding of each definition firmly in place throughout the organization, as the very first step. Without a clear and precise definition, creating scoring criteria is impossible. Organizations are consistently frustrated when trying to define the various stages of qualified leads, and this is causing only a few of the leads that they deem “qualified” to actually convert into sales. How “qualified” are these leads that convert between 3% and 5% to sales? Probably not that qualified.

Route qualified leads to sales for conversion to customers
It seems simple enough: create scoring criteria, score leads until they meet or exceed the criteria threshold, then pass those leads to sales. However, even here, complexities abound—especially for organizations with multiple sales channels. When dealing with VARs (Value-Added Resellers), distributors, channel partners, installers, implementers and the like, organizations are generally routing their leads into a black hole vortex of unknown results, which always translates into an organization’s inability to measure the effectiveness and efficiency of their marketing efforts. It is impossible to prove return on investment when this “leads go into the black hole vortex” dynamic is present in your sales process. There are software solutions that can help organizations with channel partners route and track leads; however, we’re often surprised that organizations with this problem don’t seek the software solution to it.

For organizations that can track their direct sales specifically, the routing of leads can be derailed for a variety of other reasons. Perhaps the lead scoring wasn’t correct in the first place; or sales was never on board with the entire lead-definition process; or sales is distrustful of leads being sent over by marketing; or the entire lead-distribution process is broken, since sales insists on receiving a certain quantity of leads, whether those leads are ready or not.

Let’s take a look at where we believe enterprise marketers are failing with demand generation.

Inability to realize the importance of brand
B2B marketers who underestimate the power of brands in business-to-business decision making put their organizations at a substantial disadvantage.

Learning that creating effective content is a challenge
Only 38% of B2B marketers find that their content marketing is effective and of that 38%, only 8% believe that their content is highly effective, as reported in a 2015 study by the Content Marketing Institute.

Failure to acknowledge and focus on marketing to groups
In a complex B2B sales environment, there are multiple stakeholders and decision makers causing the buying “group” to behave in an unpredictable way.

Unwillingness to realize that current media strategies are obsolete
Never before have marketers had so many channels to choose from. Therein lies the challenge: how can marketers predict which channels are likely to have the greatest impact, especially for those challenged with limited budgets to test new channels?

Failure to address the entire demand generation ecosystem
Many organizations take a narrow point of view when assessing or diagnosing their demand generation system. However, to truly understand what’s working and what isn’t, organizations need to assess the entire demand generation ecosystem.

Failure to focus on the entire B2B customer relationship
It’s time to expand the focus of B2B engagement to the entire customer relationship, including loyalty and retention, which are not traditional priorities for B2B marketers.

Throughout the Summer of ’15, various types of content will be produced to tell you this story.

In the next installment of Modern B2B Marketing in the Era of the Empowered Buyer, we take an opportunity to provide the Modern B2B Buyer with a voice- in a piece we call: “The B2B Empowered Buyers Manifesto”

Stay tuned right here on for the continuation of the content stream presentation.

Marketing to the Empowered B2B Buyer Is Impacting B2B Marketers

Marketing to the Empowered B2B Buyer Is Impacting B2B MarketersPart 4 of the “Modern B2B Marketing in the Era of the Empowered Buyer Content Stream”

We’ve come from a world where our audience was addressable through a mass effort, rather than the precise pinpointed effort that we need today. The most challenging complexity that modern B2B marketers face is creating “individualism” within a mass-media framework. To speak to individuals, marketers require a model that directly addresses customer needs, wants and desires.

We have evolved from specific episodic programs that had a beginning, middle and end to continuous, seamless customer experiences developed to encompass the entire customer lifecycle. Moving from complex siloes of channel-specific marketing, we are challenged with simplifying messages to resonate with audiences through omni-channel branded experiences. No longer a one-way affair, with the advent and proliferation of social media, two-, three-, four- and more way communications are now the norm.

Our old processes were slow and methodical, with feedback coming back to us at a snail’s pace. Today we’re in the throes of real-time marketing, data collection, data analysis, marketing dashboards, and instant and automatic multivariate testing that allow us to optimize on the fly to continuously improve and streamline programs.

Recently, with the advent of technology-powered automated programmatic real-time buying, we have been able to break away from human-driven media buying, where limitations such as negotiations and time constraints have disappeared.

The B2B marketer and the new group dynamic
In the face of all these changes, one incorrect perception for B2B marketers is that, when marketing products to business clients, they are marketing to a single decision maker. A recent study from the CEB and Motista confirms that, in almost every case of a complex enterprise sale, there are 5.4 decision makers on average involved in a group decision. TechTarget puts the number of people in a group decision team at seven. Everyone on your sales team knows that groups make buying decisions.

SiriusDecisions came to the same conclusion as we did. They unveiled a new B2B Buying Decision Process Framework at their May 2015 Sirius Summit in Nashville, Tennessee. SiriusDecisions outlined three types of buying scenarios: Groups buying by committee (six to 10 people in the buying group), groups buying by consensus (three to five people involved in the buying group) and independent buyers (one to two people in the buying group). They’ve determined that those buying independently are usually involved in deals for less than $50K. They detail the deal size for consensus buying at a range of $50K to $500K, and likewise call out the committee buying range at $500K to millions of dollars.

With all the complexities of marketing to the Modern Empowered Buyer, the impact on Modern Marketers is significant, causing marketers to rethink, relearn, retool and reconsider how and what their go-to-market strategy will be.

WEBCAST: Modern B2B Marketing in the Era of the Empowered Buyer

WEBCAST: Modern B2B Marketing in the Era of the Empowered Buyer

Scott Levine

Vice President Strategy at KERN – an Omnicom Agency

How ready is your organization to win over empowered and emboldened B2B buyers of 2015? These savvy buyers research on their own time, across multiple devices and ultimately expect to buy on their own terms.

What are the B2B CMO megatrends that will impact nearly every B2B marketer?

How much longer will your organization tolerate single-digit conversion rates to sales from qualified leads?

Dramatic B2B marketing paradigm shifts are already underway.

Click here to see a video recording of the webcast that originally aired on June 25, 2015.

• Analysis from more than 20 leading studies about the megatrends causing modern marketers like you to significantly rethink strategies, staffing and technology infrastructure

• Actionable insights into overcoming the top B2B challenges straight from the boardrooms of Fortune 500 CMOs

• What’s working and what’s not across the entire demand generation ecosystem

Click Here To View The Webcast Now



Part 2 of the “Modern B2B Marketing in the Era of the Empowered Buyer Content Stream

Gleaned from research and assessment of reports from Gartner, Forrester, IBM, Forbes, Altimeter, LinkedIn,, AAMA, Harvard Business Review, McKinsey, The CMO Club, IDG, The Economist, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Mobile Marketing Association, Advertising Age and The Content Marketing Institute I’d like to offer these insights into what I see as the Top B2B CMO Marketing Challenges of 2015.

The research of over 20 studies reveals the Top CMO B2B Challenges for 2015 which I will address individually.


Marcus Starke, Chief Marketing Officer, Ciena writes: “Many technology companies are very inward-focused, looking at the world through a technology lens and doing everything based on what they think is right and important. The old “build it and they will buy it” mantra is still prevalent in many B2B environments and so it is the marketer’s biggest opportunity and challenge toturn an inward focus into an outward one, help the company take on a market and customer perspective, and put buyers first.”

”Welcome to the new normal with a new “cause” and “effect.”  The cause is Empowered Customers. The effect is causing B2B marketing executives to rethink just how they will be marketing to the empowered and emboldened customer of 2015.

B2B Buyers are now in control of the buying process and are expecting new levels of consumeresque experiences when interacting with your brand.  How ready is your organization to deal with the empowered and emboldened B2B buyer of 2015 who buys on their own time frame and their own terms?   Business buyers spend just 21% of buying cycle in conversations with salespeople, instead spending 23% of the time in conversations with peers and colleagues and 56% of the buying cycle searching for and engaging with content. (According to IDG Connect, 2013)


How can marketers change the perception of marketing within the organization from a Cost Center to a Revenue Driver? CMOs must be prepared to prove total marketing revenue contribution. According to a 2015 study by McKinsey, The Fuqua School of Business and the AMA, it was revealed that companies are spending 8.3% of revenue on marketing, blended for both B2C and B2B marketers.  We generally see a 4% to 5% of revenue for B2B companies.   Even at the lower end of the B2B budget estimate of 4%, companies yielding $1B in annual revenue have an average marketing budget of $40,000,000.

What is the return on the investment?  CMO’s must be prepared to answer the big revenue question in 2015.  The Fournaise Group reports that: “90% of marketers that are not trained in marketing performance & marketing ROI, and 80% struggle with being able to properly demonstrate to their Top Management the business effectiveness of their Marketing, spending, campaigns and activities.”

Marketing must be an efficiency driver for sales, helping sales to focus on what they do best; which is proposing and closing solutions, while marketing provides the strategy to drive preference and consideration through campaigns implemented with marketing automation methodologies.

Marketers must create and construct their plans to align with the sales pipeline and revenue goals of the organization while having a plan in place to report ROI.   CEOs are putting even more pressure on the CMO to generate (and prove that they generate) incremental customer demand for the companies’ products or services (ie: their ability to generate more sales, more market share, more prospects, and/or more conversions.)


Will marketers successfully engage prospects and customers with the same Brand Experience regardless of channel in 2015

Business-to-Business buyer’s expectations have changed dramatically due to the advent and proliferation of rich consumer Omnichannel experiences.   B2B buyers are simply expecting near or the same experience when engaging a B2B brand through various channels.  There has and will continue to be a change in buying preferences which is happening as generational shifts occur as B2B buyers are simply expecting near or the same experience when engaging a B2B brand through various channels.

And this includes eCommerce where applicable for B2B products, not so much for services.  While there are some great examples of B2B eCommerce sites such asCDW, the people who get “IT”, most are not so great.

According to a recent report from Forrester Research: “Building The B2B Omni-Channel Commerce Platform Of The Future,” The top barrier to omnichannel implementation is back-office integration across channels (44%) while 42% of B2B companies point to difficulty sharing customer data and analytics between channels, countries, or locations; 40% say they are limited by distribution partners, franchises or wholesale customers and 36% report a conflict between different channel organizations, implementation difficulty (or lack of business incentives, 33%), limited staff skills (32%), and employee or management resistance (31%.)

B2B Marketing organizations must strive to own Customer Experience to develop Omnichannel experiences that are seamless for their customers.  Controlling the touch-points of a customer’s full journey is the optimal way to deliver a true differentiated Omnichannel experience.


How can marketers close the gap between what they used to do and what they need to do in 2015?

As new skill sets are needed to staff Marketing Operations for modern B2B Marketing organizations, will those who possess those skill sets become a valuable commodity or, will organizations formalize training for these positions?   New technological knowledge and skills are essential to the success of any Marketing Operations team which has become the nerve center of modern marketing demand generation centers of excellence.

The best technology stack integration will amount to no more than a giant paper weight without the valuable insights gained.   If the marketing operations team is unable to perform and collect, analyze, interpret and produce insights from that data, the entire investment in technology and human resources is wasted.   Marketing operations personnel must be capable of presenting a viable business case enabling a top-down strategic view of marketing’s return on investment to the business.

Proving and reporting ROI is of the utmost importance to the CMO, who must do the same for those sitting at his or her corporate table- the CEO, CFO, and CXOs.  The gap in lack of technological knowledge for marketers must be eliminated through new hires with the experience and / or capabilities to provide the organization with the analytical reporting which is now table stakes rather than a “nice to have” capability.

As B2B marketing is transformed by technology, analytics, alignment with sales and product, and the empowered buyer and customer, the era of informal marketing skills development has ended.


Mobile marketing capabilities are a must-have for marketing organizations in 2015. Mobile advertising, apps, messaging, mCommerce and CRM must be part of the marketing mix in 2015 as “70% of marketers see mobile marketing as a critical enabler of products and services.”

According to Comscore and Morgan Stanley, mobile internet access has overtaken fixed internet access in 2014 as the customers preferred channel of choice. The new consumeresque expectation is that the B2B modern buyer can get whatever they want in their immediate context and moment of need.  People and companies want and must have mobile solutions that work anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Mobile Marketing is defined as including advertising, apps, messaging, mCommerce and CRM on all mobile devices including smart phones and tablets.  Buyers are increasingly switching between their devices, and brands must be able to create those omnichannel experiences.


With organizations growing investments in content marketing, there is increasing pressure on marketers to prove ROI. The conundrum is that while nearly all B2B marketers are creating content, few are creating effective content- therein lies the challenge- what is effective content and how do you go about creating it?

  • 70% of B2B marketers are creating more content than they did one year ago, even those who say they are least effective (58%) and those without any type of strategy (56%).
  • Measurement is a key area where B2B marketers are struggling: Only 21% say they are successful at tracking ROI; however, having a documented strategy helps (35% of those with a strategy say they are successful).
  • Once again, infographics was the tactic that had the greatest increase in usage (from 51% last year to 62% this year).
  • 94% of B2B marketers use LinkedIn to distribute content, making it the social media platform used most often (they also say it’s the most effective social media platform).
  • 58% of B2B marketers use search engine marketing, making it the paid method used most often to promote/distribute content (they also say it’s the most effective paid method).

While organizations are anxious to practice content marketing, why aren’t more organizations able to develop and create effective content?   From the Fortune 500 marketing boardrooms that we are privileged to participate in, to the mid-market marketing meetings that we also attend, we see a common issue, and that problem is a lack of a formalized, documented content strategy.   We also see that even when organizations do have a formal and documented content strategy, the focus of the content is usually from the organization’s point of view- which totally disregards the thoughts, feelings, experience, expectations and consideration of the target audience as they move through the modern buyer’s 10-stage journey.


Is being a modern marketer dependent on having the latest shiny new marketing technology object in the tech stack?  Before marketing departments can request that new DMP or marketing automation software, there must be a data strategy in place that requires those technologies in order to execute on the strategy.  How can marketing organizations understand if they are underinvesting or overinvesting on marketing technology?  And if the organization does invest in marketing technology, the prevention of underutilization of that technology is of paramount importance in determining the return on investment to the organization.

The Marketing Technology experiment ends in 2015.  Marketers must face accountability to prove commercial returns from the technological investments even if the organization acquired and assembled those technologies one at a time, for different and various reasons.  If this is the case with your organization, a Marketing Technology audit to determine the validity and necessity of each piece of technology as it pertains to the success of the sum of the parts, or in other words, the ability to execute against the organization’s data strategy, is the first step in proving ROI on the technology investments.


Will marketers find a way to improve the results of demand generation efforts?  The average B2B marketing organization only converts 3% to 6% of leads into sales according to a recent benchmark study by Implisit.  Let’s focus on that statistic for a moment- by looking at the inverse of the stats- if 3% to 6% of leads that the organization has deemed qualified then 94% to 97% aren’t converting.

Organizations drive accountability and performance from their demand generation ecosystem by designing and implementing a best-in-class system of universal measurement in order to secure trust from the organization’s leaders in the key performance indicators reported.

A never ending push and pull battle between sales and marketing inevitably causes marketing to cave in to sales never ending demand to hand off leads quickly which results in the passing to sales of premature leads of poor quality.   And, of course, sales has the completely opposite perspective, which in the sales point of view is being asked by marketing to follow up on leads that aren’t qualified, and don’t exhibit the BANT criteria when those leads are called or visited. Practicing accountable demand generation means focusing on lead quality over lead quantity regardless of the “urgent” demand from sales to pass over more leads which simply exasperates sales when sales realizes that those leads aren’t nearly qualified.

According to the 2015 Demand Gen Report Benchmark Study, 74% of respondents rank “focusing on lead quality over lead quantity” as being the most important demand generation goal for 2015.”

Recently, KERN unveiled a “Best-in-class” Demand Generation Ecosystem: “The 8 Pillars of Demand Generation for Revenue Acceleration,” which describes each of the 8 categories of demand generation that must be implemented to achieve best-practice demand generation.

A 24 page Executive Preview of the 8 Pillars of Demand Generation can be found here.

Download the Top B2B CMO Challenges Infographic here

In the next installment of Modern B2B Marketing in the Era of the Empowered Buyer, I begin with a look at what the world was, and what it is now relative to modern marketing. Stay tuned right here for the continuation of the content stream presentation.